Box Office Guru

Box Office Guru Preview: Eastwood vs. Scorsese - Round 2

by | October 19, 2006 | Comments

Hollywood sure loves to dwell on yesteryear. Another wave of historical films hits the multiplexes on Friday led by the World War II drama "Flags of our Fathers" directed by Clint Eastwood.

Going back another half-century is the Hugh JackmanChristian Bale thriller "The Prestige." Kirsten Dunst rewinds even further to the 18th century playing the title role in "Marie Antoinette." Moviegoers who want to stick to the today’s times get to ride the family film "Flicka" which also is added into the mix this weekend. Overall, the North American box office should simmer down after two weeks of red-hot action thanks to a quartet of new releases that does not seem to be exciting the public too much.

What happens when two-time Oscar winners Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg join forces to produce a film? You get the DreamWorks/Warner Bros. production "Flags of our Fathers" which chronicles the famous battle at Iwo Jima and the notoriety that followed for the soldiers photographed hoisting the American flag. The R-rated film is low on starpower boasting a cast featuring Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford. Clearly it will be subject matter and the director that will draw in audiences. "Flags" is likely to become the oldest-skewing film in the marketplace. Young adults should not show too much interest and female appeal will be limited as well for this war story. Competition for adult men will be tough given the start of the World Series and the continuation of all sorts of live football all weekend long on television.

Clint Eastwood’s WWII epic "Flags of Our Fathers."

But loyal Eastwood fans will probably find the time for "Flags" this weekend and some reviews have been good. Critics have not been giving the type of support this time that they gave in recent years to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River" giving it a lesser sense of urgency. Plus a fall season full of period films really doesn’t need more of them. A narrow release will curtail box office potential too. This weekend, it could turn out to be a rematch where Eastwood will square off against Martin Scorsese whose "The Departed" is proving to be an exciting option, set in modern times, for ticket buyers.The New York-based filmmaker wants revenge after losing to Dirty Harry at the Academy Awards a year and a half ago. "Mystic River" opened wide in October 2003 to an average just north of $7,000. Paramount’s "Flags of our Fathers," which debuts in roughly 1,800 locations, could reach the same vicinity and collect about $13M this weekend.

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play dueling magicians at the turn of the 20th century in "The Prestige." The current Caped Crusader reteams with director Christopher Nolan in this PG-13 period drama which co-stars Scarlett Johansson as, you guessed it, the beautiful young woman both men desire. Michael Caine also appears in another Alfred-like role. The Buena Vista film’s biggest challenge will be to convince audiences that this is not that Edward Norton film they just saw a few weeks ago. While "The Illusionist" was not a big blockbuster, it was very well-liked by moviegoers and has had some of the best legs of 2006. Those who paid to see it may not be in the mood for another one so soon. Just ask Mr. Capote. Starpower in "The Prestige" is good, but the two leads do not usually sell well outside of their comic book flicks. "The Departed" and "Flags of our Fathers" will steal away adult audiences providing ample competition, but "The Prestige" does have more female appeal than Clint’s war tale so adult couples that have seen Leo vs. Matt already might give Wolverine vs. Batman a try. Opening in over 2,000 theaters, "The Prestige" could debut with around $10M.

Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman, in that other 19th century magician movie.

The weekend’s only family offering comes on horseback in the form of "Flicka." 27-year-old Alison Lohman stars as a stubborn 16-year-old girl who befriends a steed against the wishes of her dad on a scenic Wyoming ranch. The PG-rated film should mostly appeal to girls and play to the same crowd that spent $9.2M this weekend a year ago for the bow of another girl-and-her-horse flick, "Dreamer." Business will be stronger in the heartland than in large urban centers. Fox is giving "Flicka" the widest release by far of any of this weekend’s new openers so the sheer size of the distribution will give it some traction, even if the average limps a bit. "Open Season," which is still strong going into its fourth hunt, will be the only real threat to business. While bad girls might line up for "Marie Antoinette" this weekend, the good girls will get to ride with "Flicka" which will gallop into over 2,000 more theaters. Opening in 2,876 sites, the horse flick could take in around $10M this weekend.

Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw in "Flicka."

Spidergirl Kirsten Dunst tosses on a fancy wig to play the famous queen of France in "Marie Antoinette," written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Booed last May at the Cannes Film Festival, the PG-13 film is a biopic aimed squarely at teenage girls and young women with a story of a bold gal with a strong head on her shoulders, for most of the time. The studio is marketing the film in a hip way hoping to appeal to young people. "Marie" should skew heavily female as interest from guys will be weak. Dunst will have a chance to test her starpower as the only big-name actor in the cast. Her date movie "Wimbledon" did not fare too well in the Fall of 2004 with a $7.1M opening from over 2,000 theaters. Reese Witherspoon‘s "Vanity Fair" bowed to $4.8M from just over 1,000 playdates by appealing to a similar audience. "Marie Antoinette" will launch in only 859 theaters on Friday limiting its box office potential. A weekend gross of about $5M could result.

Kirsten Dunst is "Marie Antoinette."

Last weekend’s box office champ "The Grudge 2" has seen its audience get frightened away during the week as the Sony thriller dropped to second place on Monday and third on Tuesday. A hefty tumble of 55% could result giving the spookfest about $9M for the weekend and a ten-day sum of $33M.

On the other hand, Warner Bros. has been enjoying great legs from its mob thriller "The Departed" which eased only 29% in its second mission. "Flags of our Fathers" and "The Prestige" will eat into its adult audience, but the Martin Scorsese hit should continue to remain a very popular moviegoing option. A 30% fall to about $13M might lead "The Departed" back into the top spot this weekend unless one of the newbies breaks out. Regardless, that would push the cume to a stellar $76M.

LAST YEAR: The Rock cooked up a number one opening with his sci-fi actioner "Doom" which opened with $15.5M. Universal’s video game-inspired flick fell apart quickly and found its way to only $28M. Debuting in second place was the less expensive family film "Dreamer" with $9.2M on its way to a stronger $32.8M final for DreamWorks. The Spielberg studio also claimed the third spot with the leggy kidpic "Wallace and Gromit" with $8.6M, off only 26% in its third weekend. Sony’s horror pic "The Fog" fell from first to fourth with $6.7M. Warner Bros. saw a weak opening for its Charlize Theron drama "North Country" which grossed just $6.4M. Cume reached a mere $18.3M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,